On Meet The Press recently, President George W. Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleisher pointed out that the White House press secretary’s desk “literally sits equidistance between the front door of the Oval Office and the podium in the briefing room on the other side of you. And the press secretary is paid to represent the president. But you also have to work with and represent the press corps. And it’s a terrible balancing act.”
It was a really interesting Meet the Press discussion. Click here to read the transcript, or view the video above.
On the same broadcast, President Bill Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart said, “I think there’s a phrase that all presidents eventually get when they look at their spokesmen or communicators. And it’s ‘Your friends in the press.’ Like you own them.”
While the White House press secretary is a very visible example, this is the balancing act all public affairs and public relations professionals perform every day. While we advocate to the press on behalf of the organization or client paying us, we also advocate within our organizations for the needs of journalists—our “friends in the press”—and the benefits of engaging even on difficult issues.
Personally, I hate saying “no comment,” and I cringe when I see other professionals reduced to using that phrase (likely at the direction of those above him or her).
Even if you’re not able to provide a quote, there are still lots of ways you can be helpful to the reporter, while also trying to get your organization’s perspective into the story. For example, you could recommend other people or organizations that could contribute to the story, providing contact information. Or you could provide links to relevant resources and articles — on your own website, and especially on third party websites.
Whatever you do, when a reporter calls or emails, be responsive, and be respectful of their deadline. If you’re not able to comment, come up with ways you can successfully balance the goals of your organization with the reporter’s goal to write a compelling story.
Just like the White House press corps, the reporters you work with have a job to do, and just like the White House press secretary, so do you. With a little core strength and some creativity, you’ll be able to keep your balance (most days!).